Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Our Highly Unconventional Arrangement



I sat picking at a sharp point embedded in our brown, chenille sofa. Suddenly, a long, white feather came sliding out. Startled, I flicked it away. I turned back towards Brian. His mouth was down-turned as he sat facing toward the television, examining his phone (​ maybe it was a Blackberry? After all, it was December, 2008). Beyond the hum of the Sub Zero in the kitchen, I could hear the distant wailing of a tree-trimmer's electric saw.

"Should I go get them?" I offered.
"Give them a couple of more minutes," he answered.
I looked around to make sure that we had everything ready for a quick get-away after we told them the news. There were several, small, blue and silver wrapped gifts lying on the low, wooden table in front of us. I had a little bag of gleaming gold-foiled chocolate coins in my fist. I set it down with the gifts, fearing that the heat from my hand would melt them. It was the first night of Hanukkah and we were throwing a party in our Malibu house in 2 hours. Finally I heard their feet on the back staircase. My stomach seized up and a fist formed inside of it.

"What's the big news?" said Miles tumbling on to the sofa. Justin sat next to Brian. His cheeks were rosy. The air was suddenly perfumed with the sweet smell of bubble gum shampoo and the slightly acrid smell of the perspiration-mist that seemed to constantly cling to our boys.
They were both inspecting us.

We knew we had to tell them now, but we felt so lost. We had no idea how this should work. We had consulted with a "divorce therapist" and sought counsel from friends who were "happily divorced." I had even looked up the word in our children's dictionary - hoping to get some magic language to make what we were about to say "okay" for our 8 and 10-year-old sons.

"We have something to tell you." ​I don't remember if it was me or Brian who said that.
"What is it?" said Miles. "You're not getting a divorce are you?"
I was both startled and hopeful. Maybe if they already suspected this wouldn't be so hard for them to hear. Brian and I looked at each other with astonishment.
"Yes." I said finally. "But we need to tell you how it's..."
Justin fell in to sobs and started scooting off of the sofa.
Miles was looking back and forth at each of us in disbelief. "You really are?" He was now crying too. "No, no, no...!"
Brian caught Justin before he ran and held him. I hugged Miles and rocked him back and forth.

"Why?" asked Justin plaintively, looking up from Brian's grasp.
My heart had shattered into a thousand pieces. My eyes brimmed with un-shed tears. I wiped them quickly. Brian and I were supposed to be calm and supportive. We needed to show them that this didn't have to be a tragedy.
"We've decided it's better this way" (​ again - that was one of us. I'm not sure which).
"But," I said in what I hoped was and "upbeat" way, "your lives are not going to change much." Justin stopped sobbing and looked up at us with confusion.
"Not very much" I continued, bolstered by the fact that he'd stopped crying. "Like for instance - we're all going to Malibu for the Hanukkah party now!.
"All of us?" said Miles skeptically.

"Yes." I said. "All of us. You guys will sleep there with Daddy this weekend (​ they had already spent a few weekends there alone with Brian). When you come back on Sunday, you'll sleep here with me. Daddy will be here for breakfast every morning when you wake up and drive one of you to school. Daddy will come here and have dinner with us whenever he can - just like now. We'll still do stuff together. It's just that Daddy will sleep in Malibu at night and I'll sleep here." Even in our "divorce-ignorance" Brian and I knew this was a highly unconventional arrangement. But what else could we do? It was hard enough, this whole thing. I was 4-months sober and he was trying to reckon with no longer living at home. There was the divorce itself, which was a cruelly sterile process, one in which we were both forced to act as agents for our future selves. But maybe we could spare the boys some of that pain. We would try the highly unconventional arrangement. We would try it for their sake.

"Okay?" said Brian. My heart sang when I saw that both boys were eyeing the presents on the table.
Miles nodded.
"Okay Justin?"
"Okay" he said in a small voice. He was checking out the Hanukkah gelt. It was his favorite. I fished a coin out of the bag and unwrapped the stubborn gold foil. "Here sweetie."
"All right" said Brian. Let's go!

The boys grabbed a couple of more coins and started arguing about who would drive with who. Brian and I looked at each other over their heads.
"Are you all right?" he mouthed.
I nodded.

"Okay" he said out loud. "Grab the presents and let's go!"

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